(The Center Square) – Illinois’ continued population decline is already a campaign issue in the next election for governor that’s more than 20 months away.

Illinois shrank by nearly 80,000 people last year and over the past decade, analysis shows the state has 253,000 fewer residents. Illinois is likely to lose at least one seat in Congress, if not two, which diminishes the state’s power in Washington D.C. and the number of electoral votes for president.

Last week, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, announced he’s running for the Republican nomination for governor. He said the state’s continued population decline was a factor in his decision.

“We’ve all watched while our friends, neighbors and relatives have fled our state because of corruption, high taxes and excessive government regulation,” Schimpf said.

Illinois was just ranked by WalletHub as the second-highest property tax state in the nation, behind only New Jersey.

State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, announced he’s running in front of a large audience in Effingham Monday night. He said the state’s accelerated population decline year-over-year is because of “failed government.”

“We have to be honest though, the political elite of both parties failed us,” Bailey said to applause from the crowd.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who hasn’t officially announced a bid for a second term, was asked Tuesday how he’d address population decline in Illinois. Before answering, he noted Bailey’s in-person rally.

“I heard that that announcement last night was in a room of hundreds of people and no one was wearing a mask,” Pritzker said. “So I’m concerned there’s going to be a superspreader event from somebody who is running for governor. ”

Bailey told WMAY there were masks and hand sanitizer available, and temperatures were taken for attendees at Monday’s event. He said he plans more events around the state, saying the pandemic doesn’t end people’s rights to peaceably assemble.

To the continued population decline, Pritzker didn’t address the state’s high taxes. The first-term Democratic governor said he’s increasing higher education grants and he’s focusing on “building up” small businesses.

“I’ve talked about the corporate loopholes that we need to close in order to balance our budget, the corporate loopholes that we’re closing, the vast majority of that is all about and affects the largest corporations,” Pritzker said.

Republicans have roundly criticized the governor’s insistence the legislature end nine different tax incentives for a $930 million impact.

Primaries are March of next year ahead of the General Election in November 2022. Pritzker hasn’t officially announced he’s running for a second term.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.